This is an opinion piece. It is my opinion that both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic would be happy to finish 2019 #1, but that neither of them is overly worried about it.
Their current 2019 points stand at:
Rafal Nadal – 9225
Novak Djokovic – 7765
This would seemingly be a nearly impregnable lead for Nadal, but he is getting married and missing Shanghai. If Novak wins Shanghai, 8765 is well within reach of Rafa’s 2019 total. It is a big IF given how well Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, and Stefanos Tsitsipas have played in the past two weeks, but Novak is still a clear favorite in the field and just won Tokyo.
Top tennis players love winning Masters 1000 events, and Novak will want to win Shanghai (no deep insights here). The side effect of a runner-up (600 points) or championship by Nole in Shanghai is to create a race for #1 that I doubt either player jeopardizes early 2020 to capture.
Practicing is Required to Become or Retake #1
History and the Year-End #1
Pete Sampras prides himself on finishing 6-consecutive years ranked #1. The consecutive part is not in danger, but Djokovic finishing #1 would give Novak 6 total years finished at #1 tying Sampras’ all-time record. If Rafa’s lead holds up or he extends his lead, the Mallorcan would finish #1 for a 5th time tying him with Djokovic, Federer, and Connors for second-most years finished at #1and place him one year behind Sampras’ record.
Since every ranking represents a 52-week period, I am not sure what to make of the significance of the year-end #1. However, finishing a calendar year and season on top does seem noteworthy. Doing it for a 5th or 6th time is perhaps just another positive mark on either player’s already gaudy historical numbers. Still, the lure of this doesn’t seem likely to elicit an extra effort of taking wildcards and chasing points. They will likely play and try to win the remaining tournaments on their schedule. Making this an exciting race for the fans and non-race for them.